The minister-president of the Belgian region of Flanders, Jan Jambon of the Flemish nationalists, is facing increasing political pressure because of a police brutality case in 2018, when he was responsible for the Belgian police as interior minister.
On Tuesday, Jambon will have to appear before Belgium’s parliament to discuss the handling of the death.
Images of Belgian police restraining a Slovak man who died in police custody at Charleroi airport in 2018 surfaced last week, showing officers restraining him by putting a blanket over his head. One officer sat on him for 16 minutes.
The images triggered public outrage both in Slovakia and in Belgium as they showed several officers laughing during the incident, while another appeared to give a Nazi salute.
Jambon initially denied he knew about the case when he was responsible for Belgian police, but current Interior Minister Pieter De Crem testified in Belgium’s parliament on Wednesday that Jambon’s cabinet was made aware of the incident only days after it happened.
So far, no one is publicly calling for Jambon’s resignation before he has the chance to defend himself.
Since then, emails on the death between the airport police and Jambon’s cabinet have also emerged, as well as reports about a meeting between the Slovak ambassador and Jambon’s cabinet.
However, it is still not clear whether Jambon was personally made aware of the incident or whether his staffers never brought him up to speed.
“There’s a problem in both cases,” Belgian Green parliamentarian Jessika Soors of the Greens told Belgian public broadcaster VRT. “If Jambon didn’t know, his cabinet didn’t properly function and you can wonder what other things he didn’t know and how such a minister functioned. And if he did know, then the issue of resignation should be discussed. Perhaps the most elegant solution would be for Jambon to resign himself.”
So far, no one is publicly calling for his resignation before he has the chance to defend himself in the Belgian parliament on Tuesday. In particular, Jambon’s coalition partners, the Flemish liberals and the Flemish Christian-Democrats, have decided to hold off any public attacks until they have more details on the case.
The Flemish coalition has been under strain in the past months because of the difficult formation of the federal government, in which the same parties are involved.
Not all of them might be included in the future federal government, however. At this point, it looks like the Flemish nationalists (N-VA) — who are in charge of the Flemish government — could be left out of the future federal government, while the other two parties will enter. That would mean they’d have to work together on the Flemish government level, but fight each other on the federal level.
Given those sensitivities, which are already building pressure on the relations between the three Flemish coalition partners, Jambon’s coalition partners don’t want to infuriate the Flemish nationalists even more — unless the testimony on Tuesday makes his position impossible to defend.
At the hearing on Tuesday, Catherine De Bolle, the current chief of Europol, will also have to testify, as she was head of the Belgian police at the time of the incident.